The Tech Rabbi (Rabbi Michael Cohen): Creativity, Design, and Innovation in Education

Who is The Tech Rabbi, Michael Cohen?

RABBI MICHAEL COHEN is a designer, educator, creativity instigator, podcaster, YouTuber, speaker, and an Apple Distinguished Educator. He’s also the Director of Innovation at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles Boys High School and the author of Educated by Design: Designing the Space to Experiment, Explore, and Extract Your Creative Potential.

⭐️ Use the timestamps below to jump to specific parts of this conversation in YouTube. ⬇️

05:09 – It’s story time! Please share with us about a low moment or an experience of adversity that you’ve faced in your teaching or education career, and describe how you overcame it.

08:54 – I can’t say enough about your book, Educated by Design: Designing the Space to Experiment, Explore, and Extract Your Creative Potential. So many good directions we could go here, and it’s been fun to hear you discuss your ideas chapter by chapter on your podcast. But let’s start with this quote:

“We want our students to believe that they have the ability to create something incredible, but for that to happen, they must experience the freedom of authentic learning. Our students must be allowed to take risks and be given the space to experiment, fail, and try again.”

Can you talk more about what you mean by authentic learning? How can school leaders and teachers move their practices and thinking in this direction?

12:15 – You also wrote that “I believe that creativity is a mindset, not an art set.” I love that quote because I hear the growth mindset there – the ideas that our identities and capacities to learn are not fixed, that we all have creative capacity.

What is your word to students and educators who have decided that they are not creative people?

16:39 – How are you looking to grow professionally and improve your practice next year? Can you share about a specific professional goal or project that you’re currently working on?

19:55 – Outside of education, what’s another area of learning for you? What is it that ignites your passions outside of the classroom and brings you alive as a human being? Tell us why this area interests you and why you enjoy it.

20:38 – Share about one personal habit or productivity hack that contributes to your success.

Voices and resources that spark Michael’s thinking and ignite his practice:

On Twitter

EdTech Tools

Books

1. What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20 – 10th Anniversary Edition: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World by Tina Seelig

2. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brene Brown

YouTube Channels

Film

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Song Track Credits

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Education Blog Reviews: Livia Chan, Rachelle Dene Poth, and More

In this unique episode, education bloggers and writers were invited to share their blogs for a free and LIVE review. Many responded – so much so that it will take an additional one or two shows to finish this round of reviews. The collaborative learning was rich as host Tim Cavey analyzed 12 different education blogs for content, design, navigation, stickiness, and the About Page.

  • Content: What does your site offer?
  • Design: Is the site appealing and easily accessible?
  • Navigation: Is it easy to get around?
  • Stickiness: Is it easy to subscribe, connect, and follow?
  • The About Page: Does it properly represent the creator in Google-friendly language?

Blogs Featured in This Show

  • 1:13​ – EduCalc Learning by Nora Wall
  • 7:20​ – Chromebook Classroom by John Sowash
  • 13:57​ – Mike Washburn by Mike Washburn
  • 20:50​ – Diving Deep EDU by Matthew Downing
  • 28:58​ – Learning as I Go by Rachelle Dene Poth
  • 34:51​ – Livia Chan by Livia Chan
  • 41:01​ – Authenticity in EDU by Karen Caswell
  • 48:28​ – Nicole Biscotti by Nicole Biscotti
  • 54:55​ – Saved by the Beldin by Allie Beldin
  • 1:05:08​ – RockNTheBoat by Laura Ingalls Steinbrink
  • 1:12:43​ – He Gave Me A Melody by Melody McAllister
  • 1:18:24​ – Grow Creative Thinkers by Jason Blair

Catch the Next Teachers on Fire Roundtable LIVE

As of this post, I’m still appearing weekly on YouTubeFacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Twitch at 8:00 a.m. Pacific Time/11:00 a.m. Eastern Time. I’d love to see you join us and would be happy to feature your questions and comments on the show!

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AnnMarie Thomas: Playing, Learning, and Making

Meet Dr. AnnMarie Thomas

DR. ANNMARIE THOMAS is the director of the Playful Learning Lab, creator of Squishy Circuits, author of Making Makers, co-founder of OK Go Sandbox (co-PI), and a professor of Engineering and Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas. Dr. AnnMarie has also given a number of TED Talks and was the 2020 recipient of the international LEGO prize.

Questions That Guided Our Conversation

3:34 – Let’s start off by digging a little deeper into your work at the Playful Learning Lab. What is your mission and vision there, and what does your work look like? 

7:36 – AnnMarie, in response to schools closed by COVID-19 in recent weeks, you recently co-created the The PlayLine Resource Guide, which provides play-based activity ideas and hosts supportive digital meet-ups for educators. Can you tell us more about the thinking behind this resource? Who is it aimed at, and what can educators expect to gain when they visit the site? 

13:15 – We also need to touch on your receipt of the $100,000 2020 Lego Prize for your work dealing with how children learn through play. How did you earn it? Tell us more about the work LEGO is doing in this regard.

16:40 – As you look across your professional learning network and your own practice, what else is setting you on fire about education and learning today?

19:19 – How are you looking to grow professionally and improve your practice next year? Can you share about a specific professional goal or project that you’re currently working on?

21:13 – Share about one personal habit or productivity hack that contributes to your success.

Voices That Spark AnnMarie’s Thinking and Ignite Her Practice

Connect with Dr. AnnMarie

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Song Track Credits

  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*
  • Species by Diamond Ortiz
  • *tracks courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

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We Write for Life

The more reflective you are, the more effective you are. — Pete Hall and Alisa Simeral

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

Last year I read Sparks in the DarkLessons, Ideas, and Strategies to Illuminate the Reading and Writing Lives in All of Us by Travis Crowder and Todd Nesloney.

Wow. What a powerful and inspiring book.

If you’re passionate about literacy, about promoting the place and pleasure of effective reading and writing in your classroom, I strongly recommend this title.

I said “in your classroom,” but one of the things that comes across so powerfully in Sparks in the Dark is the fact that literacy must be a lifestyle.

To be genuine, to be vibrant, to be contagious — reading and writing must spill out of our personal lives.

And this goes for all teachers — not just those who teach English Language Arts. As educators, as thinkers, as lead learners, we must model a life of constant reading and writing.

Literacy is Breathing

If we say that communication, creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking are the core competencies at the foundation of today’s education, we must practice what we preach.

In an age of digital amusement and easy-everywhere distraction, we must show our learners what it looks like to mentally breathe. To stop, be still, and practice the acts of mental inhalation (reading) and exhalation (writing).

One of the most important reasons that we write is to know ourselves. As Don Murray says, “You write to discover what you want to say.

It sometimes feels like the act and art of self-reflection is a vanishing habit. But we must show our learners that these practices are essential aspects of living a healthy and productive life.

When Our Reading Lives Are Shallow, So is Our Teaching

Speaking especially to educators, Crowder and Nesloney write “We prioritize what we value, and when we do not value reading or learning, it shows. Our instruction is a mixture of what we have read, and when our reading lives are shallow, so is our teaching. It isn’t an insult; it’s the truth.”

We cannot be effective educators if we are not regularly reading and reflectively writing.

Becoming a Writer

To those who feel defeated by identity before they even start (“I’m not a writer”), James Clear describes his own evolution as a writer in his recent book, Atomic Habits.

You may not be a reader or writer today. But you can and will become one — one paragraph, one page, one article at a time.

So pick up a book. Grab a pen or sit down at the keyboard. Score some small wins, and begin the gradual process of redefining yourself.

Start breathing.

Because the more reflective you are, the more effective you are.

person writing on brown wooden table near white ceramic mug
Image Credit: Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Episode 118 – Kristin Merrill

118 - Kristin Merrill

Meet Kristin Merrill

KRISTIN MERRILL is a fourth grade teacher in south Florida who specializes in language arts and strives to make lessons interactive and engaging through the use of educational technology. She teaches at a smaller elementary school with a diverse school community, where she’s affectionately referred to as “the Dinosaur of Fourth.” She recently co-authored The Interactive Class: Using Technology to Make Learning More Relevant and Engaging in the Elementary Classroom.

Questioning Her Vocation

Kristin recalls a time in her career when she found herself questioning much of what she was asked to do as a teacher. She decided to start making changes to her practice based specifically on what was good for students and their learning, but the changes weren’t always warmly received by colleagues. At times, she felt a sense of distance and isolation as she worked to reinvent herself, but she found strength and support in a growing PLN.

Today, she’s happy to report that as her network has grown and her influence has increased, she enjoys much more support and collegial relationships in her current context. One takeaway for other educators is that professional resistance to innovative practices tends to be a passing season; keep pushing through it and consistently grow your practice, and things will eventually get easier.

The Interactive Class

Writing The Interactive Class: Using Technology to Make Learning More Relevant and Engaging in the Elementary Classroom was never on her bucket list, Kristin says, but as she and her husband Joe shared their teaching ideas and strategies on social media, a friend encouraged them to publish a book. Kristin and her husband Joe are passionate about helping other educators build classrooms that are student-centered, fueled by the creativity and collaboration of students, and the book helps them share that message.

The Interactive Class is divided into two parts: first, the philosophy and rationale behind interactive teaching strategies, and second, the applications and best practices of interactive teaching and learning. Although Kristin and Joe come from primary classroom contexts, many of the lessons and strategies they describe could be applied at middle school grade levels or higher. 

On the Subject of Recess

When asked about whether recess should be used by teachers as a carrot or a stick, Kristin says that recess should be considered an essential part of childhood. There is so much that kids learn just through play and social interactions outside of the classroom, she observes, not to mention the processing and recharging time that recess allows young learners. Why would we ever want to take these times away from them?

What Else is Setting Kristin on 🔥 in Education Today

Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt is a kindergarten teacher who does a phenomenal job of building student inquiry, interest, and relevance into her learning activities. Kristin has been obsessed with her lately, following Rebecca on Instagram and taking notes from her latest projects. Recently, Rebecca built an impressive inquiry-based learning experience around pets, and Kristin is a big fan.

A Professional Goal: More Relevance

Motivated by Rebecca’s example, Kristin’s professional goal for the year is to make her teaching more relevant. This means more than just making sure her content and teaching strategies are as current as possible — she also wants to better understand what students view as meaningful. She plans to do this by looking for more ways to incorporate student voice, choice, and inquiry–even when that takes her into uncomfortable worlds like Fortnite! 

Personal Passions and Recharging Activities

“Education is my passion,” Kristin admits, explaining that professional learning really does energize and inspire her — even when she’s at home. Aside from education, she enjoys the simple things, and often those simple things relate to life with family. Whether it’s walking at the beach, exploring a nature trail, or sitting by the fire, it’s in the simple and quiet moments that she feels recharged and prepared for more creative work.

Personal Productivity: A Personal Planner

Social media doesn’t always portray an accurate picture of what life is like for educators, Kristin observes. We all have moments when we don’t have it all together and the tensions between personal and professional spheres make things a little chaotic. Her go-to tools include a personal planner that she maintains on paper, and she writes down every task, priority, and concern that she sees weeks or months away on the horizon.

It’s not to say that none of the plates ever fall, she says, but as long as she’s intentional about her most important priorities, she’s learned to give herself the grace she needs when the house doesn’t get cleaned perfectly or other ideals aren’t met.

Voices & Resources That Inspire Kristin’s Practice

Over on Twitter, Kristin recommends following Andy Knueven @MrCoachK15. He’s a master of Flipgrid, Minecraft, Wakelet, and a ton of other interactive learning approaches in fifth grade.

It’s just too painful to narrow her favorite edtech tools down to one, so Kristin shouts out three legendary creative apps: FlipGrid, DoInk, and Adobe Spark

Kristin has two book picks to share. The first is a children’s lit favorite: The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau. The second is an education classic — The End of Molasses Classes: Getting Our Kids Unstuck–101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers, by Ron Clark.

A favorite podcast that works with her limited time for listening is the Ditch That Textbook Podcast with Matt Miller. After taking a two-month break in the fall of 2019, Matt is back and publishing short episodes almost every day.

One of Kristin’s favorite YouTube channels is The Bucket List Family, a family that travels the world and documents their adventures.

When time allows her to enjoy some Netflix, Kristin’s tuning in to Grace and Frankie. She connects with their sense of humor!

We sign off on this fun conversation, and Kristin gives the best ways to follow her online. See below for details!

You can connect with Kristin …

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Song Track Credits

  • Bluntedsesh4 (by Tha Silent Partner, courtesy of FreeMusicArchive.org)
  • Sunrise Drive by South London Hifi*
  • Anthem by The Grand Affair*

*courtesy of the YouTube Audio Library

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